Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and R. Gregory Christie

Cover image of Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and R. Gregory ChristieWheeler, Lisa. Jazz Baby. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2007.

Plot:  “Bitty-boppin’ Baby” claps, dances, and eventually snoozes to the jazzy music-making of his family and neighbors.

Setting: Urban

Point of View: 3rd person

Theme: jazz, music, singing, dancing, family, neighbors, community

Literary Quality: With boisterous rhymes and toe-tap worthy rhythms, Lisa Wheeler’s text bounces off the page and begs to be read aloud: “Mama sings high. Daddy sings low. Snazzy-jazzy Baby says, “GO, MAN, GO!” So they TOOT-TOOT-TOOT and they  SNAP-SNAP-SNAP and the bouncin’ baby bebops with a CLAP-CLAP-CLAP!” R. Gregory Christie’s gouache illustrations bring further music to the page with their depictions of a multi-generational family passing around a happy, spunky baby. Warm colors outlined in broad-stroked lines that contrast against plentiful whitespace, these paintings carry forth the playfulness and energy of the narrative. As the story winds down and the “Drowsy-dozy Baby” drifts off to sleep to the soothing arms, smiles, and voices of his family, readers will be reluctant to return from this imaginative celebration of music and love that transports and inspires.

Audience: I would recommend this book to readers ages 1-8. A perfect read-aloud for a classroom or story time, but with family at the center of it, a great book for the home, as well.

Personal reaction: Picture books that take on music and sound are my favorites, and Jazz Baby ranks among the top of that list. It is fun to read, to actually say the words which tickle your mouth and in tempos that get your body itching to move.  This story is one of my son’s favorites, as well. At 18 months, he dances (bounces) when we read it, and claps and chimes in with an enthusiastic “OH YEAH!” at the end. In other words, he has been converted to a jazz baby, himself.

Hello 2014

It’s a brand new year! I didn’t stay up until midnight, but that turned out to be a good thingPhoto of Alex and her son on New Year's Eve since a certain small fellow in my household woke me up at 2:45 a.m. and didn’t go back to sleep until the sun began to rise. So really, I just observed the turning of the year with the west coasters! Prior to middle-of-the-night wakings, we had a blast celebrating New Year’s Eve in downtown Bangor. Our evening was complete with Indian food, admiring the festive lights adorning the trees and streetlights, running around the Discovery Museum (after-hours at museums are the best), and attending a great New Year’s Eve Party at the Bangor Public Library. I am thrilled to live somewhere with such family-friendly activities and festivities! Sometimes having a very young child makes me feel…not like we’re missing out, that’s not right, because we’re partaking in a different kind of excitement at this stage of our lives, but it makes me miss staying up late and being out and about in the evening. So it felt NYE_Hinrichs_familygreat to be out with other families after sunset! It was also fun to see restaurants filled to capacity and everyone preparing for the street party later on. The sidewalks were buzzing, and I suspect that crowds might have been thinner this year even given the sub-zero temperatures. As we scurried from our car to dinner, the little one managed to lose a mitten. We had strategically parked closer to our final destination, and decided not to trek back looking for the too-big mitten. It was just too cold. When our bellies were full and noses warmed, we retraced our steps. And here’s what makes Bangor fabulous. Someone had picked up the mitten and placed it high up on a snow bank, balancing it on the cuff in a little wave so that it would be easier to see. We found it effortlessly. The reason I know this is a trait of this community and not just a coincidence is because this was the third time I have lost something belonging to my son (yes, I know…I really shouldn’t admit that. But honestly, how do babies and toddlers lose articles of clothing that quickly and quietly?!) and found it again thanks to the good graces of caring individuals. To me this was the most impressive instance because somebody stopped in the freezing weather and thought about where a worried parent might look. It would have been so easy to just continue walking. Thank you to that somebody. To all the thoughtful somebodies out there. You make parenthood a bit easier and more forgiving, and that’s quite an accomplishment.

At one point a news crew asked my spouse if he had any New Year’s resolutions (I was too busy trying to cover the little guy’s mitten-less hand to respond), and that got me thinking about resolutions in general. I’ve never been one to make specific resolutions. In some ways I stash them away in the same category of my brain as diets — things that seem temporary and often unpleasant and/or unrealistic– perhaps because diets are so often included in resolutions. It occurred to me that I shouldn’t do that, though. Where I dislike many specific resolutions because I think I would just set myself up for disappointment and dissatisfaction, I do find vague resolutions in the form of broad goals helpful. Last year was the first time I really made one, very casually, by saying out loud that I wanted to become a more organized and neater person. I feel like I achieved this, but given the level of organization I was at to begin with, that wasn’t hard to do! Our house is still a disaster most days, ha. Still, though, I feel satisfied that I made some improvement in that category of my life. Now rather than dirty laundry piling up, the clean laundry piles up! I should probably just keep organization and neatness as my resolution this year, too, given there is so much more room for improvement, but I think there are more urgent things in my life at the moment.

Namely, I would like to work on growing my patience. And I would like to size down my stress triggers and habit of worry.

So there you have it. My shiny new resolution that leaves me plenty of room for missteps and backwards steps, making me feel confident that I can fulfill it.

Happy New Year, everyone! May the year bring much joy and laughter. And, of course, many wonderful children’s books to read.

Photo of an icy shrub on a sunny day in Bangor, Maine

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

Cover of "All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla FrazeeScanlon, Liz Garton. All the World. Illustrated by Marla Frazee. New York: Beach Lane Books, 2009.

Plot:  From seashore to garden bed, a rainy hour to a comforting cafe, a noisy family-filled room to outdoor night quiet, this rhyming picture book follows a family through their day.

Setting: Small coastal town in United States

Point of View: 1st person (determined by lines such as “All the world is you and me”)

Theme: family, world, life, love, nature, community

Literary Quality: As rhythmic as the waves we see depicted crashing along the rocky shore, the rhymes in this picture book carry readers page to page and place to place. Movement, both linear and circular, is a theme of the story and also artfully crafted with hand-lettered words and pencil and watercolor illustrations. From smaller vignettes surrounded by a lot of white space to full two-page spreads, we move in and out of this     Sample vignette illustration from "All the World" beautiful world. The words, too, are not in straight lines across the page but move up and down and often form part of or a frame for the illustrations. Scanlon balances concrete details with abstract concepts in short musical phrases, and invokes all the senses in doing so: touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. For example, in the garden we see and hear the “Hive, bee, wings, hum,” and touch and see and taste the “Husk, cob, corn, yum!” The ebb and flow from small moments to big ideas in both words and pictures create a lullaby of a story that’s buoyant with a celebration of life, family, community, and the world in which we live.

Audience: Ages 2-8. The short, rhyming text and many pictures will captivate the very young, and older readers will also find much to appreciate in the larger ideas about the world.

Personal reaction: This was one of those books I happened upon while browsing through a bookstore and promptly sat down to read and re-read. The poetry and beautiful illustrations drew me in and kept me lingering.